Truthwitch by Susan Dennard. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: Tor Teen January 2016
The Book Itself: Dramatic witch is dramatic. I don’t know how practical that outfit would be when on the run, but it gives you a good idea on what the author is thinking for the character at lease.
My Review: On a continent ruled by three empires, some are born with a “witchery,” a magical skill that sets them apart from others.
In the Witchlands, there are almost as many types of magic as there are ways to get in trouble–as two desperate young women know all too well.
Safiya is a Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lie. It’s a powerful magic that many would kill to have on their side, especially amongst the nobility to which Safi was born. So Safi must keep her gift hidden, lest she be used as a pawn in the struggle between empires.
Iseult, a Threadwitch, can see the invisible ties that bind and entangle the lives around her–but she cannot see the bonds that touch her own heart. Her unlikely friendship with Safi has taken her from life as an outcast into one of of reckless adventure, where she is a cool, wary balance to Safi’s hotheaded impulsiveness.
Safi and Iseult just want to be free to live their own lives, but war is coming to the Witchlands. With the help of the cunning Prince Merik (a Windwitch and ship’s captain) and the hindrance of a Bloodwitch bent on revenge, the friends must fight emperors, princes, and mercenaries alike, who will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.
Look! A book from an Uppercase Box (take a look at when I opened this one here)! This has all the trappings of a good fantasy series: strong leads, a complex magic system, a hint of romance, etc. And for the most part, it’s solid. The action keeps you reading at a good pace and the author’s focus on female friendship rather than ooey-gooey romance is nice. I struggled a bit with the world-building and logistics of the magic these girls so potently wield.
So we’ve got a Truthwitch, a Threadwitch, a Windwitch, and a Bloodwitch. The least clear of all of these, even from name alone, is the Threadwitch. One of our main characters, Iseult, sees the threads that bind the people around her – essentially their relationships and apparently, their emotions. She also cannot see her own threads. I have so many questions already. I imagine being in crowds would be extremely uncomfortable: so many threads and emotions, and wouldn’t it be hard to see? Are the threads rather transparent? How powerful does this gift make you, really? So you know a man and woman are romantically involved. So you can tell when a friend is secretly angry with you. People react to Iseult because of her race, but is being a Threadwitch seen as an overly powerful gift? And once we meet Iseult’s family, we find out they can make Threadstones – stones that can relieve pain, link two people together over great distances, etc. Why does seeing the ties that bind also give them an affinity with stones? How do they make Threadstones?
You see, the mind spins with questions. I don’t notice that I’m thinking of these questions until Safi, our Truthwitch, mentions that her power (sorry, witchery), can also detect when she herself is telling a lie. So only Threadwitches are blocked from their own power? Wait, does everyone have a witchery? Does it develop? Is it hereditary? Are those with witchery considered superior than those without? Are they universally feared? Loved?
My questions mount, and I don’t really get any answers. The world-building and society structure are wobbily at best in this story. There’s a war going on that no one seems to want, but is considered an inevitability. There’s an Emperor, but I’m not sure who or what he rules over. And tell me about the witchery! It’s the central theme of the book, so I want more detail. A lot more detail.
But I’ll digress from that. Safi and her love interest dance at a ball and fall in love. It’s literally a Cinderella moment. I would hate this, would roll my eyes at the insta-love that plagues YA fiction, but it’s not all smooth sailing from there. Safi leaves the ball in a chase scene (okay, also very Cinderella). And a few dozen misunderstandings means our star-crossed lovers aren’t just ride off into the sunset types. They’re both stubborn as hell, for one thing. So it’s a little more complex than their first meeting would have you believe. I’m glad for that.
I love the female friendship in this. Safi and Iseult play off of each other and have a great bond, even when they’re physically in different locations in the story. And the Bloodwitch seems very compelling and interesting, even though I don’t quite understand why he’s hunting down these girls. Does their blood just smell really good?
Ultimately, I’m left with a bucket load of questions and a plot that seemed to move in a linear way, but was tough to flesh out. I’m not sure if I’d pick up the sequel. We’ll see when the release date gets closer (here’s looking at you, January 2017…)
P.S. it also bugged me that we had to hear the colors Iseult saw as people’s emotions. There were so many that I couldn’t keep track of consistency (was loneliness always orange? Was anger consistently burgundy?). It really took me out of the story to read something like “Iseult saw his/her threads flash ochre with compassion, then azure for relief, and finally mauve for resentment.” I am over-embellishing here, but it did feel both over the top and dragging.
My Grade: C-